FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Salt had a number of purposes in the Middle East of the first century. In a land without refrigeration it was used to preserve food and as a flavour enhancer. It was used to prevent erosion in the roofs of houses and Roman soldiers were paid in salt. The word salary is derived from the word for salt. If a soldier did not do his work, he would not get all his salt. Hence, we use the phrase ‘he is not worth his salt’ if someone does not do his work properly. The people who gathered around Jesus on that little hill in Palestine would have understood all this. His image was striking; His message was clear. His followers are charged with the task of bringing the flavour of life to others, preserving His truth on increasingly alien soil and transforming the world’s culture, rather than conforming to it. The image of light speaks to all cultures and all ages. Light is not a private energy. It is meant to be shared. It dispels darkness and it attracts. It guides and it warns. The life of the disciple should reflect the Light of Jesus to the world. It should evoke curiosity in others. It should move them to take a ‘second look’. Nothing points to God more clearly than the witness of a disciple doing good. A Chinese Christian approached a missionary once and proceeded to quote the Sermon on the Mount word for word from beginning to end. ‘How did you manage to do that’ enquired the missionary. ‘I spent the last year trying to live it’ replied the man. ‘In the world’s nights the Christian witness brings God’s dawn’. (Pope Francis)
FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The best portraits are those that convey something of the spirit of the subject. The Sermon on the Mount, which is probably a compilation of several sermons, takes us to the heart of Jesus. It’s the closest we have to a self-portrait of the Lord. All the sayings proclaimed in the Sermon become flesh and blood in Him. We are told that He sat down and began to speak. When a rabbi sat down he was about to deliver an important teaching. When he opened his mouth to speak, he was opening his heart. The teaching of Jesus, expressed in the form of nine ‘Beatitudes’ is an exaltation of the ordinary. It’s a blueprint for happiness. It’s a call to a way of life that is attainable, but it does stand the values of the world on their head. The poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the ‘nobodies’ of this world have built their house on rock and they will have their reward, while those who pursue power, prestige, possessions, pleasure, popularity have laid their foundations on sand and their house will crumble. The Beatitudes are the attitudes to which we should aspire.
THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
He said to them, ‘Follow me’ The first disciples were called without promises, programmes or guarantees. Peter and Andrew were casting their nets in the lake when they were called by Jesus. James and John were mending their nets. In these two words the disciple’s map is laid out. Disciples of Jesus are casters and menders. We cast the nets whenever we show the face of Christ to the world. We mend the nets whenever we reach out to bind up hearts that are broken or bodies that are torn. It is not enough to know God. We must make Him known. My life as a Christian should make nonbelievers question their disbelief in God. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe used as his motto for sport and for life: ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can’. As for the sportsman so for the disciple. We do what we can in His name to cast and to mend. The rest is in His hands
SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Look there is the Lamb of God’
We were always told as children that it was bad manners to point a finger at somebody. It is true, however, that there are times in life when it behoves us to point the way forward for others. This is especially the case for people of faith. We are faced with a very basic choice as proposed by English writer HG Wells: ‘If there is no God nothing matters. If there is a God nothing else matters’. If we accept the latter proposition we must act. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. As the Roman philosopher, Cicero declared over two thousand years ago: ‘not for ourselves alone are we born’. Like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel we must be continually pointing the way to the One who is the Way. Personal example is the best way to lead others to Christ. ‘Don’t tell them; show them’
FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
‘Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptised by John’
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings to a conclusion the Christmas season. The momentous event at the river Jordan is reported in all four Gospels. It marks the bridge between the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth and His public ministry. The word Baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word ‘baptizo’, which means to immerse. As He enters the waters of the river, He immerses Himself in our story, which is now raised to a new dignity. He goes to the place where life begins, and He emerges to offer His followers new life. When we went through the waters of Baptism we were drawn into this new life, which is the very life of God. We took the first step on a lifelong walk with Him. We committed ourselves to follow the way He showed us, and to be His witnesses always. We never leave our Baptism behind. We try to live it out every day, and we learn every day. In our often feeble efforts we can identify with the saint of old, who, when asked near the end of his life if he was a Christian, replied with great humility: ‘not yet’!
‘Celebrate the date of your Baptism every year in your heart. Do it.’ (Pope Francis).
Congratulations to all who were welcomed into the Christian Community in our Parish during the past 12 months
FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
This Feast is well placed, because Christmas is above all the season of the family. These are the days when we return to rest again in the cradle of our life and love. The family is a Gospel in itself. It is good news for society. It is one of nature’s masterpieces. While parents stand at the centre of family life, we are reminded, in the persons of Simeon and Anna that grandparents are a precious gem at the heart of the household too. ‘They sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children’ (Alex Haley). On the threshold of another year, we raise-up in prayer our families, young and old, living and sleeping. May our departed ones sleep in peace, and through the intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may our homes continue to be circles of strength, schools of faith and communities of love.
Athbhliain shuaimhneach orainn uilig. .
FEAST OF CHRISTMAS
When Jorge Bergoglio ascended the throne of Peter on 13th March 2013 and assumed the name of Francis, we all looked again at the life of the man from Assisi, how he loved nature, cared for the poor and renewed the Church. His most enduring legacy was surely the creation of the crib, when in 1223 he gathered some local people in a cave in the small town of Greccio to depict the stable scene. From those humble beginnings people have erected cribs down the ages in all kinds of shapes, sizes and places. The Italian city of Naples is a case in point. In the heart of the ancient city lies the much-visited ‘Via Gregorio Armeno’, which for obvious reasons is known as ‘Christmas Alley’. From early in the year artists and craftsmen spend hours in their workshops along that street designing cribs with a difference. They have come up with the ingenious idea of placing the Bethlehem scene in ordinary settings. Consequently, their unique cribs contain not only the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but also the figures of ordinary people going about their everyday chores. The message is strikingly clear. Jesus is to be sought and found in the ‘bits and pieces’ of every day. When the celebration of Christmas ends and the work of Christmas begins, we need to be aware of His presence in ordinary people and places and in surprising people and places too. Christmas is tenderness for the past, courage for the present and hope for the future.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The exact birthday of Jesus is unknown. Pope Julius I who was Pope (337-352), is credited with selecting the 25th December to celebrate the coming of the Saviour into the world. It was a pagan festival in honour of the ‘sun god’, and since we believe Jesus to be the ‘Light of the World’, the date seemed especially appropriate. Take Christ out of these days and we are back in the pagan space. We should guard against returning to where we were! Let us, rather, be possessed by the mystery and message of these days. Our God is with us. As we stand before the crib, may we find there again the gentle reassurance of His presence, and may we understand with utter confidence, that we are loved. Then, let us fall silent and rest secure in the heart of God. Céad fáilte romhat, a Linbh a rugadh sa stábla.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'Rejoice in the Lord always'
This is 'Gaudete Sunday'. The Latin word gaudete means 'rejoice'. We light the pink candle on our Advent wreath today. It is called the 'Shepherds Candle' and symbolises the joyful expectation of these days. 'Where there is love there is joy', according to Mother Teresa, and love manifests itself most of all in giving and in service. Our experience of life teaches us that those who are most joyful are those who do most for others. Words attributed to Lebanese-American poet Kahil Gibran capture beautifully this core aspect of joy:
'I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.
I woke and I saw that life is all service.
I served and saw that service is joy.'
Let us make this a truly joyful Christmas.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
‘Prepare the way of the Lord’
John the Baptist takes centre stage again. He is the saint of Advent. Rugged, steadfast, fearless, charismatic, humble, the greatest of the prophets, his voice thunders from the wilderness and down the ages: ‘prepare the way of the Lord’. It was in the silence of the barren and bleak wilderness that John found enlightenment as he came face to face with himself and his Creator. There he discovered that silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. We can learn from John by cultivating stillness in our lives during this special season. In the quiet space we will come to appreciate more deeply that Advent is not so much about preparing for Christmas, as it is about preparing for Christ. ‘Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity’ (Lao Tzu)
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
‘Waiting is learning’
A new Church Year begins. We move into the season of Advent. The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’. During these days we are asked to think about the coming of Christ at Christmas, His coming at the end of time, and His coming into our lives every day. In other words we look back, we look forward and we look around. It is really a four-week course in waiting. Like its cousin, Lent, it is a season for prayer and reformation. We have travelled the road often, but sometimes we see something for the first time on familiar roads. As we gaze on the Advent wreath today we might reflect on the circle of life with its constant cycle of endings and beginnings, comings and goings, while the gentle flame of the candle should reassure us that the darkest night cannot quench the light of hope which a tiny infant brought to our world over two thousand years ago.
“Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem. May we be drawn by the light of Christ made man.”
THIRTY FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING’
Pope Pius XI, whose motto was ‘the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ’ instituted this Feast in 1925. Benito Mussolini had just declared himself ‘Il Duce’ (‘The Leader’) of Italy, and the Holy Father wanted to remind his flock that, for them, there could be only one ‘duce’, Jesus Christ. He placed the feast, appropriately, at the hinge of the Church year, to indicate that all time and all seasons belong to the Lord. Christ is a king with a difference. His kingdom is a reign not a realm. He did not come to reign on a golden throne, but on a wooden cross. His power comes, not through domination, but through humble service. As he stands before Pilate in today’s Gospel, he explains his mission: ‘I have come to bear witness to the truth’. In a world that increasingly ignores His truth, we His followers need more than ever to bear witness to His truth, to speak His truth, and act His truth so that His kingdom may come. Hail Redeemer King Divine.
THIRTY THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Your endurance will win you your lives’
Jesus was nothing if not honest with His followers. He did not promise them an easy passage, but He did guarantee them His support on their journey, and, if they persevered, success in the end. Most of those early disciples were to pay the ultimate price for the faith, but they also discovered that the prison cell can be a palace, or the scaffold a throne when the Lord walks by your side. Endurance is the difference between success and failure. A winner in life or in God’s kingdom is just a loser who tried one more time. When reflecting on his career of outstanding achievement, the great inventor Thomas Edison remarked: ‘many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up’. May we never succumb to hopelessness as we endeavour to make sense of ‘life’s weary puzzle’. Through endurance we find out who we are.
THIRTY SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘He is not God of the dead but of the living’
‘How strange the fear of death is; we are never frightened at a sunset’. So wrote Scottish Christian poet, George McDonald. The Sunday Gospels during the month of November, the month of the Holy Souls invite us to reflect in a deeper way on life and its destination. Our Celtic ancestors had a strong belief that our relationship with a dead relative or friend does not end with his/her disappearance, but continues on a different plain. The Christian vision of life and death sits easily here. We too believe in the continuity between the here and the hereafter. We are citizens of both earth and heaven, and death is but our second birthday. Our earthly pilgrimage is not so much a funeral march to the grave, but, rather, a victory parade to the place prepared for us, the place we call home. This is the reassuring message offered by Jesus in today’s Gospel, in answer to the question posed by the doubting Sadducees. It is a message that should banish our fear.
THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’
Zacchaeus appears just once in the New Testament, and his story is brief. A Tax Collector, small in stature, viewed by his peers as a traitor, a collaborator, a thief, wealthy, but not happy. The scene is Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Driven by curiosity he climbs a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, about whom he has heard so much. By going out on a limb he catches the attention of the Son of God as he passes by. Then, a look of love, acceptance and mercy turns a flawed life into something beautiful. Once we encounter Jesus we are never the same. The Zacchaeus story reminds us once again that the potential for greatness lives within each of us, and even more encouragingly, as British Victorian author, George Eliot once proclaimed: It’s never too late to be who you might have been
THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘The prayer of the humble man pierces the clouds’
The two men in today’s parable are worlds apart. The Pharisee was the model citizen, a pillar of society, law-abiding, upright, one of the ‘spiritual elite’. The Tax Collector on the other hand was despised by all, seen as corrupt, untrustworthy, the one to be avoided. When they come to the Temple to pray God ignores the externals and looks to the heart. The Pharisee is self-centred and arrogant, and there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion. He is actually praying to himself. The Tax Collector gets it right. He comes before God humble and repentant and his prayer is heard. ‘The prayer of the humble man pierces the clouds’. A parable then of two men, two prayers, two attitudes, two verdicts! One man came to brag; the other came to pray. The message is clear. No person who is proud can pray. No person who despises a fellow human being can pray. True prayer is centred on God. True prayer draws us into the mind of God. True prayer emerges from the humble heart. ‘Before a humble heart God opens His heart totally’. (Pope Francis)
TWENTY NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Pray continually and never lose heart’
Every noble work is at first impossible. Perseverance is of the essence and the ancient Chinese proverb resonates with all: ‘The man who removed the mountain began by removing the small stones’. We live in an impatient age, an age of instant communication, instant results, instant coffee even! We find it difficult to cope with delays. Yet it is that which grows fast that withers rapidly, while that which grows slowly endures. Good things come to those who are patient, but the best things come to those who don’t give up. Perseverance in prayer leads to deepening, and allows us to see into the heart of things, to grasp the bigger picture. It draws us into the mind of God. Prayer is not about the ‘quick-fix’. As Mother Teresa once said: ‘Prayer is not asking. It is putting oneself in the hands of God, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts’. It is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening, but it takes time, patience and perseverance
TWENTY EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The one who said thanks was a Samaritan.
Auschwitz survivor, Eli Wiesel offers this insightful reflection on the subject of gratitude: ‘no one is as capable of gratitude as the one who has emerged from the kingdom of the night’. It is indeed the one who has been sick who appreciates health; the one who knew poverty who treasures wealth; the one who was incarcerated who values being free. Today’s Gospel extract is a case in point. We hear of the Samaritan leper who said thanks when he was healed by Jesus. The despised foreigner, the untouchable outsider shows gratitude. Could it be that his suffering opened the door to thankfulness? We pray for thankful hearts always, believing, in the words of American self-help author, Melody Beattie that ‘gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow’. Gratitude turns what we have into enough!
TWENTY SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Increase our faith’
Walter Ciszek, a Polish Jesuit priest spent fifteen years in forced labour camps in Siberia. When asked what kept him going during those dark days he replied: ‘it was not I who kept the faith; it was the faith that kept me’. Faith is not always a pleasant, fulfilling experience. It is often just seeing in the dark, but then it is only in the darkness that you can see the stars. As the great Bengali poet and novelist Tagore wrote so eloquently: ‘Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark’. Central to faith is patience. To believe is to plod on, but without faith, life loses its meaning. It is a trust, then, rather than a certainty, a journey rather than an arrival. It’s not the belief that God will do what you want. It’s the belief that God will do what is right. With the disciples in today’s Gospel we pray: increase our faith.
SEASON OF CREATION
The Season of Creation ends on Tuesday 4th October, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Born Giovanni de Pietro di Bernardone in 1881 he founded the Franciscan Orders, devoted his life to service of the poor, played a major role in re-building the Church which was badly in need of reform, created the first Christmas crib, and promoted special reverence for all of creation which he saw as manifesting the presence of God and deserving of respect. Francis died in 1226 and was canonised by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. He was declared patron of animals and ecologists by Pope St. John Paul II in 1979. ‘Praise to you my Lord through Sister Earth, our Mother who sustains and governs us producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs’. (St. Francis).
TWENTY SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
TWENTY FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘You cannot serve both God and money’.
The old proverb tells us that the one who serves two masters has to lie to one. Our life is shaped by the end we desire. If the end we desire is to be with God we must make our preparations now. Our future is purchased by our present. In today already walks tomorrow. The Gospel today reminds us that serving God can never be a part time or spare time job. Our commitment to serve Him will manifest itself above all in our treatment of the poor. The ‘Poor’ are mentioned in one way or another in every ten lines of Scripture. They were especially close to the heart of Jesus. Pope Benedict once said that the three tasks of the Church are: to worship God, to preach the Gospel and to serve the poor. Pope Francis took up the same theme at the beginning of his papacy when he proclaimed: ‘I want a Church that is poor for the poor’. It is wise to presume, that when we reach the end of the journey the celestial turnstiles will be supervised by the ‘Poor’.
TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘The one who was lost has been found’.
Today’s Gospel offers us three beautiful, life-giving parables about lost things. Jesus speaks with great tenderness about a shepherd who loses one of his sheep, a woman who loses one of her coins, a father who loses one of his sons. His message is clear and encouraging. Everyone matters to God. He will never give-up on His children. He searches unceasingly with fatherly concern for the one who has strayed and welcomes him/her home. As St. Augustine once wrote: ‘He loves each of us as if there were only one of us’. It was no wonder that this uplifting message drew sinners in great numbers to hear the Lord speak and seek His company. They were touched deeply by His merciful words in what was a merciless world. Today as then, people yearn to hear that they matter. Pope Benedict had this universal yearning in mind when he couched the timeless teaching of Jesus in these memorable words: ‘Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary’
TWENTY THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’.
What is a disciple? The root of the word is the Latin ‘discipulus’, meaning ‘student’. At the time of Jesus a disciple was a person who followed a teacher, master, rabbi or philosopher. The disciple desired not only to learn the teaching of the rabbi, but to imitate the practical details of their life. Through the ages, many in our Church have been willing to be students of Christianity rather than disciples of Christ. Reflecting on this trend, British author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘If our Church is not making disciples then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible, are a waste of time’. Another esteemed British theologian and contemporary of Lewis, GK Chesterton noted that Jesus promised His disciples three things: they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble. Being a disciple, then, is exceedingly rewarding but extraordinarily demanding. It entails much more than being a follower. It is in essence the call to become who Jesus would be if He were you. When faced with a choice the true disciple will invariably ask the question: what would Jesus do in this situation? Wearing a cross does not make you a disciple; carrying your cross every day does. You never graduate from the school of discipleship.
TWENTY FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door’
The striking image of the ‘narrow door’ in today’s Gospel conjures up the scene on any given match day at venues around the country as supporters queue to enter the stadium. While great throngs approach the gates, each person enters the turnstile alone, provided the ticket is valid. At the end of life’s journey we enter the ‘narrow door’ alone in order to reach the heavenly kingdom. We don’t hold someone else by the hand. To ensure that our ticket is valid we should prepare for the fateful moment without despair or presumption. Entry to the celestial banquet is neither easy nor automatic. It entails living by the wisdom of the Gospel; listening to the word of God and keeping it. That means taking the road less travelled, but the prize is worth the effort. It is wise to prepare for death then. By doing so we actually clarify our life. The word departure literally means to pull up anchor and set sail. Consequently, everything that happens prior to death is preparation for the final voyage. This parable is a wake-up call, a reminder that our actions have consequences. Can you think of anything more painful than to arrive at the heavenly stadium, and have to listen to the celebrations within while being forced to remain outside? ‘In the end if we don’t have God we don’t have anything other than an end’.
TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘I am not here to bring peace, but rather division’
Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England was beheaded on a charge of treason on July 6th 1535. He had refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church of England or accept the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. His final words before execution have echoed down the ages: ‘I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first’. Thomas stood on the side of truth and his words and deeds capture perfectly the essence of today’s extract from St. Luke’s Gospel where Jesus says that He came to bring division. It seems like a contradiction that the Prince of Peace came to bring division. But real peace is based on truth, and if I speak the truth it will at times cause division. The prophets stood for truth, and they were martyred. It has been said that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident. We must be brave, then. We must have the courage to stand against the crowd at times. We should never worry about who will be offended if we speak the truth; we should worry, rather about who will be misled and damaged if we don’t speak it. The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee that it is true. ‘The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth’(Laozi). Pope Benedict reminded us that whenever we find ourselves on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. Truth cannot be determined by majority vote, but as in the case of Thomas More, it will set us free!
NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit’
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is the best selling memoir of all time written by American author Mitch Albom about a series of 14 visits he makes to his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz who is terminally ill. During these Tuesday visits Morrie gives Mitch his final moving lesson on life. In one of his most striking contributions, Morrie suggests to his former student that ‘everybody knows they are going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did we would do things differently’. If we learn how to die, according to Morrie we learn how to live. If we are honest, we will admit that we do indeed keep death at arms’ length and consequently we have loose ends in our lives, things left undone, or half-done or not even attempted. We convince ourselves that time is on our side, but there is nothing so fatal as to feel we have plenty of time. We need a healthy appreciation of the brevity of life and its’ destination. Morrie is in tune with Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel, which directs us to be on our guard and have our lamps lit because we don’t know the day or the hour when the bell will toll for us. When that bell tolls it will matter little what we have amassed in terms of worldly possessions. What will matter is what we have made of ourselves, whether we have remained faithful and how we have loved. Love is the measure by which we will be judged, the kind of love that shapes all we think, speak and do, the kind of love that leaves us at rights with our God and with our brothers and sisters, the kind of love that ensures that we are dressed for action when the bell tolls.
‘When your last hour strikes count only on what you have become.’ (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Be on your guard against avarice of any kind’
This is the only parable in the New Testament in which words are attributed to God. He calls the young man ‘fool’ for his blind pursuit of wealth and possessions, without making any effort to make himself rich in the sight of God. In our world today we never had so much wealth and possessions, and yet there was never less contentment and security. We look around to see bigger houses, higher walls, security cameras, guard dogs and electric fences. Covetousness is the road to slavery! The person who does not know what is enough will never have enough. In Kenya the practice exists of removing the clothes from the dead before burying them to remind the living that we leave the world the same way we came into it. Come to think of it, we came into the world with fists clenched but we leave it with hands wide open!
‘He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have’ (Socrates).
‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed’ (Mahatma Gandhi).
SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Say this when you pray’
The ‘Our Father’ is the model of all prayer. Two versions of this prayer are recorded in the gospels, a longer form containing seven petitions in the Gospel of Matthew and a shorter form containing five petitions in the Gospel of Luke. It is a prayer that has inspired poets and philosophers, popes and politicians, prisoners and paupers in every corner of the world over the past two thousand years. Every time we pray we use a version of the ‘Our Father’. It is a complete programme of Christian living. It is a summary of the entire Gospel. It covers all of life. It covers our past sin: ‘forgive us our trespasses’. It covers our present need: ‘give us this day our daily bread’. It covers our future trials: ‘lead us not into temptation’. Most amazing of all, it ‘allows’ us to address God as ‘Father’. This is an extraordinary privilege, which would have been incomprehensible to the Jews of Jesus’ day. It’s a privilege that carries with it a challenging responsibility. If we ‘dare’ to call God ‘Father’, we must be prepared to act as His sons and daughters should. The ‘Our Father’ is meant to be lived. Prayer is the pillow of religion. When we are on our knees we can’t stumble. ‘I tell God what I want quite simply and He always seems to understand’ (St. Thérese of Lisieux).
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
There are two types of hospitality: the hospitality of giving and the hospitality of presence. Both are important. Both are necessary. Martha in today’s Gospel is busy preparing a meal to welcome Jesus to her home. She is doing a beautiful deed. She represents the hospitality of giving. Mary, her sister, sits quietly and attentively at the feet of the Lord, listening to His words. She represents the hospitality of presence. Jesus commended Mary and assured her that she had ‘chosen the better part’. In so doing, He was not condemning Martha, but rather lauding the value of listening and silence in our everyday lives. Everything that’s created comes out of silence. God speaks most powerfully in the silence, but our world no longer hears Him because it is constantly speaking. He gets lost in the noise. The challenge then for all of us is to create ‘Mary moments’ in a ‘Martha world’. Creating moments of ‘nondoing’ each day is essential nourishment for the soul. Mary chose the better part
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Who is my neighbour’?
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known and best loved in the New Testament. It is found only in St. Luke’s Gospel. A man lies broken and bruised by the roadside. A priest and a Levite, from whom more would be expected pass-by, each one guided no doubt by the same question: ‘if I stop to help this man what will happen to me’? But when a Samaritan, the great ‘outsider’ arrives on the scene he is moved with compassion for his stricken brother and poses himself a very different question: ‘If I don’t’ stop to help this man what will happen to him’? We rise by lifting others. The ones who stop on the road become bigger people, and they will have their reward. Those who pass by and fail to respond remain small. Consequently, when we reach the end of the road we will most likely, be surprised by those who will be present at the heavenly banquet and those who will be absent.
‘The Good Samaritan isn’t just a parable, it’s a way of life’ (Pope Francis)
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house’
Only a disciple can make a disciple. The good disciple knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. It is not surprising, then, that Jesus’ instruction to the first disciples in today’s Gospel is direct and uncomplicated: ‘go out, mingle, travel lightly, be prepared to be hated, be present, use words if necessary, and offer the gift of peace to all’. He sent them on pilgrimage, not on parade. It is interesting that he emphasizes the importance of promoting and spreading peace at every opportunity. Peace is heaven’s greatest law. It is the greatest gift that one generation can bequeath to another. The eighteenth century Russian monk, St Seraphim, a revered master of the spiritual life, offered this striking reflection on the power and fruits of peace: ‘If I have peace in my soul’, then hundreds around me will be converted’. The Lord’s instruction goes out to His followers in every age. He doesn’t ask me if I am capable of the task, but rather if I am available? Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Once the hand is laid to the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’
Anyone who has ever attended the National Ploughing Championships will understand the image used by Jesus in todays’ Gospel when He tells His disciples that once they put their hands to the plough they must not look back. No ploughman ever ploughed a straight furrow while looking back over his shoulder. He must not be distracted by what he has left behind. Jesus calls His followers to persevere in commitment. He doesn’t want lukewarm service. He invites them to a pilgrimage, not a parade; to a fight, not a frolic. He makes it clear that without commitment there is no depth in anything. In other words, we must not look back and say why, but rather look forward and say why not? Looking back brings you regrets; looking forward brings you opportunities. Your destiny will never be found in the rear view mirror! As President Lyndon B Johnson reminded the American people just one week after the assassination of John F Kennedy in November 1963: ‘Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose’. The Christian marches forward to shape the future with hope.
FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven’
‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’
On Trinity Sunday we celebrate a doctrine rather than an event. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity was promulgated at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD after years of debate and it brings us to the heart of the mystery of God. The English word ‘Trinity’ comes from the Latin ‘Trinitas’, meaning ‘the number three’. ‘Our God is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and yet there are not three Gods but one God’. Images help us to enter this deepest of mysteries. St. Patrick is reputed to have used a shamrock to explain the doctrine to the Irish, while St. Ignatius of Loyola used the image of three distinct musical notes played at the same time to produce a single chord. We invoke the Blessed Trinity as we make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of every prayer. This simple, profound gesture affords us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. A practical suggestion here might help. As you touch the forehead ask the Father to make your thoughts right. As you touch the breast, ask the Son to make your heart right. As you touch the shoulders, ask the Holy Spirit to make the work of our hands right. The sign of the cross prayed reflectively makes the Blessed Trinity ‘real’
‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, a Polish Jew invented Esperanto, an auxiliary International language in the late 19th century. He dreamed of a world without war, and he believed that the first step on this road would be to break down the language barrier between peoples. The experiment failed. On this Feast of Pentecost we remind ourselves that the language of the Holy Spirit does cross all boundaries and speaks to all hearts. It is the life-giving language of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. If people decided to speak this language more frequently they would renew the face of the earth. Words create worlds. It’s interesting to note that the Buddhist religion promotes the same approach to living: ‘better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace’. Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.
FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
‘Now as He blessed them He withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven’
As Jesus ascended into heaven He blessed His friends and then they let Him go. Life is like that. As we move from one stage to the next we must bless what has been and let it go in order to embrace fruitfully what has yet to be. Consequently, we move from childhood to the middle years to old age; from home to school to the world of work to retirement. While each stage brings its joys and successes, it also brings its’ sorrows and failures. We must avoid the temptation to ‘nurse’ the hurts and wounds of the past. We are products of the past, but we don’t need to be prisoners of it. If we want to fly, we have to give-up what weighs us down. We would do well to be guided rather, by the spirit of the old adage: ‘forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you’. Holding-on is believing that there is only a past; letting-go is knowing that there is a future and that is true freedom. The friends of Jesus would come to understand.
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
‘Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you’
‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace’. These eloquent sentiments expressed by legendary American rock guitarist, Jimmi Hendrix make the important connection between love and peace, and mirror precisely the words of Jesus in the Upper Room as He bids farewell to His disciples. Having appealed to His friends to love one another Jesus now bequeaths to them the gift of peace. Peace actually begins with love, and we find peace when we live our lives through the lens of love. It’s not something that can be achieved, but something one must become. The peace which Jesus offers is an inner peace, knowing as He does that it is ‘peace within that makes beauty without’. It is His gift, then, and it is only by opening our hearts to Him that we can receive and foster that precious gift. A world without God can never know peace. No God, no peace; know God, know peace!
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
‘Love one another just as I have loved you’
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel recounts how Auschwitz camp authorities advised prisoners to think only of themselves if they wished to survive. Yet, invariably, it was those who insisted on remembering loved ones who were more likely to come through their desperate ordeal. There are two main doctrines in the Bible; love God and love people. If we get other doctrines wrong, but get these two right, we will still be in good standing with the Lord. The command to love was central to the preaching of Jesus, and it was certainly at the heart of His final address to His disciples in the Upper Room. The love He speaks of takes us beyond ourselves to be the best of ourselves, and the measure of our love will decide the measure of our happiness. Sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, expressed this challenging teaching with striking clarity: ‘in the evening of life we shall be judged on love alone’. Interestingly, Jesus did not command His disciples to love the whole world, but rather, to love one another. When Mother Teresa reflected on the implications of these words of the Lord she offered this wise and practical advice: ‘Love begins by taking care of the closest ones…‘If you want to change the world go home and love your family’.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS
The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis we should be aware of the danger, but recognise the opportunity. On this ‘Vocations Sunday’ we acknowledge the crisis in the Irish Church with regard to vocations to priesthood and religious life, but we should see in this a wonderful opportunity to awaken what Cardinal Ó Fiaich once called the ‘sleeping giant’ of the laity. The mission of the Church is the mission of all. Pope Francis is calling on all the faithful to embrace this mission with enthusiasm and journey forward with confidence on what he terms ‘the synodal pathway’. It is his vision for the future that the entire Church family, priests, religious and laity will walk forward together, listening to one another and above all, listening to the voice and promptings of Holy Spirit. Our upcoming Diocesan Assembly is a response to the Holy Father’s request. May the Spirit guide our deliberations and guide us in our efforts to discern new ways to manifest God’s love in a seemingly indifferent world, to be as renowned Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen said, ‘witnesses to the glimpses of God we have been allowed to catch’. As we embark on the synodal pathway let us remind ourselves that God does not call the equipped, but He does equip the called. He has committed some work to me that He has not committed to another. St. Catherine of Siena, an Italian laywoman of the fourteenth century, grasped this truth which lies at the heart of vocation, and expressed it memorably: ‘If you are what you should be, then you will set the world on fire’.
DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY (14th May) PRAYER
We pray for those involved in the Diocesan Assembly, taking place this month. May the Holy Spirit guide their work in selecting the pastoral priorities to help us together share the Good News of our faith. Lord, hear us
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
‘Come and have breakfast’
The word hospitality comes from two Greek words meaning ‘love of strangers’. It is a virtue that is both commanded and commended in Scripture. Hospitality was central in the life of Jesus. We find him regularly acting as host or guest while sitting at table with friends and strangers. It is said of the ministry of Jesus that He is either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal. It was often in the meal setting that He delivered His most profound teaching. If you take the meals out of the Bible it becomes a very short book. Meals are more than food. They are about community, connection, friendship and fellowship. They represent open hearts, open hands and open doors. They are a reminder to us of the generous hospitality of our God. Before we invite people to Church, perhaps we should invite them to dinner! It is no surprise, then, to find that the disciples recognize Jesus in today’s Gospel as He prepares breakfast for them by the shore. We cannot survive in life without food or love Jesus provides us with both in the Eucharist
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
‘Jesus came and stood among them’.
This is ‘Low Sunday’, a quieter day after the high drama of Easter. Behind closed doors the disciples are dazed and dispirited. Then Jesus appears and the scene is transformed, but Thomas is not there. Eight days later, he is present when Jesus shows himself to His friends again. He encounters the Lord. He sees, he believes and his life is changed forever. If proof were needed of the power and importance of praying with the community, it is surely to be found in today’s Gospel. Where two or three gather in His name, He is present in their midst. We absent ourselves from the Sunday gathering at a cost. It is the first step on the road to faithlessness. As the water lifts and supports the swimmer so does the praying community lift and support its’ individual members in their search for the living God. Our week will always be more beautiful when we begin it around the table of the Lord. The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. Thomas discovered that truth in a striking way during those first Easter days
‘He is not here, he has risen’
The Resurrection is the core of the Good News. The stone is removed, the tomb is empty, our deepest worries are scattered, and our God reigns. Jesus whom we worship is not just a dead hero but a living Lord. We live in the light of Easter. We rest secure in the knowledge that the grave will never be our permanent address, but merely the halfway house on our journey home. Easter then marks the birthday of our eternal hope. It is the guarantee of our own resurrection. It is above all the feast of life and calls us to create and promote a culture of life. In a broken world saturated with death and destruction, wars and violence, misery and inequality, we must continue to proclaim that something else is needed; another reality is possible. Goodness has the power to overcome evil. Light can conquer darkness. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’ (Martin Luther King). This is what ‘resurrection people’ believe.
‘Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord’
It is Holy Week again. We take our place beside the cross and begin the lonely road with Jesus that leads to the Hill of Calvary. It is a week of contrasts, shot through with moments of acclamation and condemnation, betrayal and loyalty, despair and hope, darkness and light, sadness and joy. It is a week that gives meaning to all suffering, which is shown as the price of love and the path to glory: ‘no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown’. The drama of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday is the story of the Triumph of Failure and the Triumph of Love. We have heard the story a thousand times, but we need to be reassured again that our God is near; we do not walk alone; our journey has a destination; death is not a voyage into the unknown, but, rather a journey home. By His cross and resurrection He has set us free.
Holy Thursday: ‘In the Upper Room the Eucharist and the Priesthood are born’.
Good Friday: ‘While the world changes the Cross stands firm’.
Holy Saturday: ‘We hold our breath and wait in quiet hope’.
Easter Sunday:‘His victory is our victory; we are no mere mortals’
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
‘Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more’
A woman is caught in the act of committing adultery. The penalty is death by stoning. The self-righteous mob gathers. Then Jesus arrives and a dark and ugly scene is transformed by the radiance of His tender mercy. In her grim moment of public exposure, ‘in full view of everybody’, the unnamed woman of the streets is surprised to be touched by gentleness and so enter the world of redemption: ‘neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more’. The prodigal daughter, having been overwhelmed by guilt and shame, now rises with dignity to the wonderful realisation that, in God’s kingdom past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you. It is a place where sin is not overlooked or approved but where the wrongdoer is understood and afforded the opportunity to begin again. The parable underlines what Graham Greene called ‘the awful strangeness of God’s mercy’. Mercy always trumps vengeance. Jesus literally loved the woman into goodness. We would like to think that she seized the opportunity to turn her life around. I wonder what became of the man?
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity.’
The parable of the Prodigal Son has been described as the greatest short story ever written. It is a story that repeats itself in our lives, describing as it does the journey from sin to repentance. The young man’s journey begins with selfishness: ‘Give me my share now’. All sin is rooted in selfishness. It leads him to distance himself from his father as he opts for the high life in ‘a far country’. All sin puts distance between us and our Father. Eventually he ‘comes to his senses’, and decides to return home to the father who never gave up on him. All sin leads to disappointment and regret. This wonderful story speaks to us of the emptiness of life lived at a distance from God; the yearning in every heart to be welcomed home no matter what, and the astounding fact that our God eternally scans the horizon on the lookout for the return of His children. Would our prisons and institutions be less full if people had been welcomed and welcome at home? ‘All roads out of hell lead home’.
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
‘Leave it one more year; it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down’
The fig tree in the Gospel story produces no fruit, but it is given a second chance. The parable teaches us that our God takes no delight in punishing or cutting down, which is a far-cry from the harsh, unforgiving culture of today. He offers a second and a third chance. Our failure in the past does not determine what we can become in the future. We hear, however, that there will be a day of reckoning for the fig tree. There is such a thing as a last chance. We must not mistake God’s patience for His absence. He is gracious but He is just. We should seize the moment, then. My life is not a rehearsal. This is the only show, and we will have to give an account of our stewardship when our journey has run its’ course. There are only two times in life, now and too late! Pablo Picasso said it better than most: ‘Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone’.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
‘In their presence He was transfigured’
Peter, James and John see the Lord in a new way on the top of Mount Tabor. They had been with Him for three years, listening to His words and watching His deeds, but it is only when they go with Him to a quiet place, away from the crowd, that they see Him as He is. There they glimpse the splendour of the glory that awaits them at the end, and that memory will sustain them in the challenging days that lie ahead. The encounter is an encounter with Love, as is every encounter with God, and it happens in the quiet place. During these days of Lent may we find that quiet place, and come to see Him as He really is. ‘Silence is God’s call for you to go deeper’
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
‘Jesus was led by the Spirit through the wilderness and was tempted there’
The word Lent comes from the old English word ‘lencten’, meaning ‘springtime’. For those in the faith family it is a springtime for the soul. It recalls the forty days that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, that bleak, barren strip (35 miles by 15), between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It was one of the great milestones in His life. His disciples didn’t witness the event, so He must have spoken to them about it. He went there, not to escape from the world, but to be close to His Father as He prepared for His public ministry. While in the Wilderness He was tempted by the devil. The devil has one purpose in the Bible - to move people off the path that leads to God, to order their desires to something other than God. For forty days Jesus faced temptations, which are as old as the human story- pleasure, pride, power, things designed to diminish his commitment and loyalty to the will of His Father. He emerged victorious from the struggle, showing that temptation need not cause us to stumble, but, rather, help us to grow stronger. Lent provides us with an opportunity to look temptation in the eye, to ‘springclean’ the soul so that we can give up who we have been for the person we can become. It’s not about giving-up earthly things, but, rather, exchanging them for better things. ‘Lent is a time to experience a fresh taste of God’.
EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
‘Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye’?
An Indian mother was worried about the health of her son who was eating too much sugar. She brought the boy to Mahatma Gandhi to see if he could help. Gandhi thought for a moment and then told the lady to bring her son back in two weeks time. The mother was disappointed but did as the great man asked her. Two weeks later, when she and her son returned to Gandhi he simply said to the young man: ‘you must stop eating sugar; it is not good for your health’. The mother was confused and asked Gandhi why he had not given that basic advice on their first meeting. Gandhi replied: ‘Two weeks ago I could not tell your son to stop eating sugar; I had to stop eating sugar first’. Before we attempt to correct or criticize others, we need to take stock. There is a story behind every person, myself included and if we look for the best in others, we will find it. Another great leader, Abraham Lincoln suggested that the only one who has the right to criticize is the one who has the heart to help. Both Gandhi and Lincoln must have been inspired by the words of the Greatest Teacher of all in His ‘Sermon on the Plain’: ‘Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own’?
SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
‘Love your enemies’
The desire for revenge is a built-in feature of human nature. Our natural instinct is to strike back in response to some perceived harm or wrongdoing by another party, to give as good as we get, to ‘get even’, but Jesus offers us a different approach when He says: ‘Love your enemies’. It’s probably the most difficult command He gave us. It goes against the grain and challenges conventional wisdom. It calls us to turn away from the path of revenge, which is ugly, dark, dreary and self-destructive. ‘If you seek revenge you should dig two graves, one for yourself’ (Confucius). Hate has caused many problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. The great 16th century Spanish Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross caught the beauty of the Lord’s teaching when he said: ‘Where there is no love pour in love and you will draw-out love’. It’s not easy to pardon the unpardonable, to love the unloveable. Christian love hurts, but the rewards are out of this world!
SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
‘Blessed are you who are poor’.
Mexican poet Amado Nervo was surely reflecting on the inspiring words of Jesus in today’s Gospel when he penned the beautiful lines: “the world told me that I was only a beggar but Jesus told me I am a king”. In His ‘Sermon on the Plain’, the Lord utters four remarkable and revolutionary blessings. They are known as the Beatitudes, and they turn the values of the world upside down. The poor will inherit the kingdom of God; the hungry will be satisfied; the tearful will laugh; the persecuted will be rewarded. Where the world sees losers Jesus sees winners; what the world calls wretched He calls blessed; what the world holds contemptible He holds to His heart. It is little wonder that the Beatitudes have also been called ‘Beautiful Attitudes’ for living
FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
‘Push out into the deep water’
It is said that, when the early Irish monks set out to preach the Gospel in new territories, they never used sails on their boats. They trusted that the Holy Spirit would guide them to wherever they were meant to go. In other words they took risks for the faith, and the fruits of their labours speak for themselves. They must have been inspired by the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel when He instructs His disciples to cast their nets into ‘deep water’. It was a hard call. Here was the son of a carpenter instructing expert fishermen on how to fish, but they obeyed and they were rewarded with an abundant catch. His call goes out anew to every generation. We, like those early disciples, must go to unlikely places; reach out to unlikely people; persevere in unpromising situations; sing His song on alien soil. The rest is in His hands. With great risk often comes great rewards. As legendary American Football coach Vince Lombardi once said: ‘The man on top of the mountain did not fall there’
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
As Jesus continues to preach His first sermon the mood turns to anger and the audience becomes a mob intent on His destruction. He is rejected by His own when He holds up as models the widow of Zarephath and Naaman, the Syrian, two Gentiles, two outsiders, two strangers. This was a bridge too far. They refused to countenance the challenge of His teaching, to look beneath the surface, to think beyond the box, to reach beyond themselves, to stand with the excluded. It was only when He had departed that His followers would come to grasp the meaning of His inspiring words on that day in Nazareth: ‘when you look for beauty in all people and all things you not only find it you become it’. A beautiful custom then grew among the first generations of Christians whereby a room was held free in their homes for any stranger who might come looking for shelter. It was known as ‘the stranger’s room’. They had come to believe that by welcoming the stranger they were welcoming Christ. They had come to grasp the Gospel truth and it had set them free.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
‘He sent me to bring the Good News to the poor’
We always pay special attention to the inaugural address of a leader outlining, as it usually does, the vision of the new regime. Today we listen with special attention as Jesus delivers his first sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum. It is His ‘mission statement’ and His mission will be different. He will have a special concern and care for the last, the least and the lost. During His public ministry, He will put flesh on the words of that first sermon. He will touch the untouchable. He will invite the outsider in. He will welcome the sinner home. He will in short, proclaim the equal dignity of all God’s children. G.K. Chesterton, poet, writer and convert to Catholicism, proposed a simple, everyday image to explain the heart of Jesus’ mission: ‘People are equal in the same way that pennies are equal. Some are bright; others are dull; some are worn smooth; others are sharp and fresh. But all are equal in value, because each penny bears the image of the sovereign, each person bears the image of the King of Kings’.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
‘Do whatever He tells you’
here are seven miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of St. John. They are referred to as ‘signs’. The spectacular drama of the Wedding Feast of Cana is a case in point. It teaches us that, when Jesus is invited into a situation, He transforms it for the better. He alone can restore hope when the wine of life runs out. It is deeply significant that the water in the stone jars was no ordinary water. It had been used by the guests to wash their feet as they entered the wedding hall. It was this foul water which Jesus changed into the choicest of wines. The ugly becomes beautiful in His hands. The abundance of wine in the story points to the limitless generosity of God. He takes delight in granting us all we need. The contribution of the servants who filled the stone jars and served the wine reminds us that the Lord relies on us to be His instruments in the world. And finally, we take note of Mary’s instruction to the servants, which are her last recorded words in the Bible: ‘Do whatever He tells you’. It would make a wise New Year’s resolution!
'Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John'
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season. The word 'Baptism is derived from the Greek verb 'baptizo', meaning 'I wash or immerse'. And so it was that Jesus, as He embarked on His public ministry, immersed Himself in the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. We likewise, were immersed in the waters of the font on the day of our Baptism. On that day we were 'Christened'. We took-on the name of Christ. We identified with His life and mission and joined the ranks of those who believe in Him. That special moment marked the beginning of a walk with the Lord that will last forever. It conferred on us a wonderful dignity and a great responsibility. Near the end of his life, Pope St.John Paul II was asked in interview to name the most important day of his life. Without hesitation, he responded that the day he was baptized was the most important day of his life. More recently, Pope Francis proclaimed that 'Baptism is the best gift we have received since through it we belong to God and possess the joy of salvation'. The early Christians appreciated this wonderful gift and celebrated their Baptism day more passionately than their birthday. Could we recapture that ancient tradition and begin by familiarizing ourselves with the date of our Baptism?
‘The Word was made flesh’
We have just heard an extract from the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel. In the days before the Second Vatican Council this reading was proclaimed at the end of every Mass. Known as the ‘Last Gospel’ it reminded the faithful before their dismissal, of the Good News at the centre of their faith: ‘the Word was made flesh’. Our God walks with us. He has made His home with us and by becoming flesh, has bestowed a sacredness on all of creation. Heaven is literally here on earth. ‘The world around us is the shop front for a greater reality’. We are grateful to John for taking us beyond the surface to the deeper meaning of the Christmas event. The eagle is, appropriately, the symbol of his Gospel. It is believed that the eagle flies higher than all other birds and can look directly into the light of the sun. So it is with John’s Gospel. It takes us higher and deeper into the mystery of our God and the light of His face.
‘They will call Him Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us’
We can’t help remembering at Christmas, because Christmas is about remembering and memories are never indifferent. At Christmas all roads lead to home and our minds turn to everything and everyone we have ever loved. We gather the victories won, the defeats suffered, the opportunities taken or missed. We come face to face with who we are and where we came from and, surrounded by those we love or have loved, whose presence we enjoy, or whose absence we feel, we are drawn to the crib, the place that holds all time together. The message of the manger is Emmanuel. God is with us. When Christ was born so was our hope, a hope that never dies. Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind that should inform our whole year. ‘Peace on earth will come to stay when we live Christmas every day’ (Helen Steiner Rice)
The exact birthday of Jesus is unknown. In the fourth century Christians selected the 25th December to celebrate His coming into the world. It was a pagan festival in honour of the ‘sun god’, and since we believe Jesus to be the ‘Light of the World’, the date seemed especially appropriate. Take Christ out of these days and we are back in the pagan space. We should guard against returning to where we were! Let us, rather, be possessed by the mystery and message of these days. Our God is with us. As we stand before the crib, may we find there again the gentle reassurance of His presence, and may we understand with utter confidence, that we are loved. Then, let us fall silent and rest secure in the heart of God. Nollaig Shona.
‘Rejoice the Lord is near.’
This is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday. The Latin word means ‘rejoice’. We light the pink candle on the advent wreath today to remind us that, while this is a season of quiet reflection it is also a time to be joyful. There is good news in the air. The Lord is near. Joy is something deep and lasting. It is totally different from pleasure. It can co-exist with suffering and struggle. We have only to consider the scene in Bethlehem to grasp the truth of this statement. Despite the dire surroundings, real joy filled the lowly stable. Joy is the most certain sign of the presence of God within us. John the Baptist tells us today that this joy is nourished most powerfully, when we reach out generously in the service of others. ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none’. The key to joy, then, is service. ‘The secret of joy is living to serve.’ (Pope Francis). Those who are happiest are those who do most for their brothers and sisters. Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud this Christmas, and experience true joy.
At the time of Christ, whenever a local ruler was travelling through the countryside his servants went before him to remove obstacles from his path so that he could make a smooth, safe journey. Today, John the Baptist uses that same image, familiar to his listeners, as he cries from the wilderness, asking people to prepare the way of the Lord. Preparing the way of the Lord means removing from our hearts any obstacles that would hinder us from being open to His word. Advent provides a space that enables us to respond, to think again, to straighten the crooked places in our hearts and minds so that we may receive Him with an open receiving heart. Then the beauty of Christmas will be found, not in the presents, but, rather, in His presence.
‘Your liberation is near at hand’
A new Church Year begins. We move into the season of Advent. The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’. During these days we are asked to think about the coming of Christ at Christmas, His coming at the end of time and His coming into our lives every day. It is really a four-week course in waiting. Over the past two years we have become accustomed to waiting; waiting in the queue; waiting for guidelines; waiting for the roll-out of the vaccine; waiting for updates; waiting for a return to ‘normality’. It has been and continues to be an extended advent time. It may perhaps, help us to enter this grace-filled season more thoughtfully, insightfully and fruitfully. Like its cousin, Lent, it is a moment of opportunity for prayer and growth. We have travelled the road often, but sometimes we see something for the first time on familiar roads. As we gaze on the Advent wreath today we might reflect on the circle of life with its constant cycle of endings and beginnings, comings and goings, while the gentle flame of the candle should reassure us that the darkest night cannot quench the light of hope which a tiny infant brought to our world over two thousand years ago. We wait and we hope.
FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world’
Pope Pius XI, whose motto was ‘the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ’ instituted this Feast in 1925. Benito Mussolini had just declared himself ‘Il Duce’ (‘The Leader’) of Italy; Stalin had come to power in Russia; Hitler was gaining control in Germany and the Holy Father wanted to remind his flock that, for them, there could be only one ‘duce’, Jesus Christ. He placed the feast, appropriately, at the hinge of the Church Year, to indicate that all time and all seasons belong to the Lord. Christ is a king with a difference. He did not come to reign on a golden throne, but on a wooden cross. His power comes, not through domination, but through humble service. As he stands before Pilate in today’s Gospel, he explains his mission: ‘I have come to bear witness to the truth’. God is Truth and when we stray from Him, we stray from the truth. When on the other hand we seek His truth, love His truth, speak His truth, act His truth, and lead others to discover His truth we enable His kingdom to come within our hearts and within our world.
‘Heaven and earth will pass away’
There is something about the month of November that invites us to reflect on endings and beginnings. As winter tightens its grip and the landscape becomes increasingly barren we are confronted with the stark truth that this world as we know it will pass away. The Word of God these Sundays asks us to live with this awareness. We are reminded that all life is a preparation to meet the King. One day we will stand before Him to account for our stewardship, for the choices we have made. ‘If in the end we have not chosen God, then it will not matter what else we have chosen’ (C.S. Lewis). Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter suggested that ‘we should live our lives each day as though Christ were coming in the afternoon’. His advice is wise. All spectacular achievement is preceded by unspectacular preparation, and by preparing for death we actually clarify life. Doesn’t it make sense to be prepared?
The Widows’ Mite
It is said that there are three types of giver: the grudge giver who says ‘I hate to give’; the duty giver who says ‘I have to give’; the thanks giver who says ‘I want to give’. The widow in today’s Gospel, who gave away all that she had, fits comfortably into the third category. Jesus noticed her quiet gesture and presented her to the ages as a pattern of generosity. Her unsung deed teaches us that the amount of the gift never matters so much as its cost to the giver. Real generosity gives until it hurts. Wealth is not determined by what you have accumulated, but by what you will give when a good deed needs to be done. It is the truly generous who are truly wise and it is the hand that gives that gathers. The little widow was wealthy beyond words
‘Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself’
The core of Jesus’ message was so uncomplicated: ‘Love God and love your neighbour’. Uncomplicated, but not simple! It begins, according to the Master, by having a relationship with God. We love others best when we love God most. If we lose Him, we are more likely to lose respect for others. Pope Francis expressed this another way: ‘when the light of faith goes out, all other lights grow dim’. Look around! When we make space for God in our lives, however, we begin to look at the world and other people through a different lens. Then every encounter becomes a moment of grace and opportunity. We come to see that every creature is full of God and all things speak of God. The celebrated 19th century Indian poet, Tagore had this deep awareness of the all-embracing divine presence in our world and his words should cause us to reflect: ‘when you left my house I found God’s footprints on my floor’
Today we join over one billion of our brothers and sisters in the Catholic world who are observing Mission Sunday. It is a day when our attention is drawn to the Baptismal Font, the place where our faith journey began. On that day we were called to be sharers in the mission of the Church. Mission is at the heart of our Church because our Founder, Christ was the first missionary. If you take all references to mission out of the Bible, you have nothing left except the covers! Consequently, the true greatness of our Church lies not in how many it seats, but in how many it sends-out! The Church must send or the Church will end! We are sent then, to make His voice and His face seen. All we need to be successful missionaries is embedded in the gifts, talents, dreams and visions we possess. We just need to use them
‘We want you to do us a favour’
The Twelve Apostles were not a company of saints. They were ordinary men with feet of clay. They struggled with pride, arrogance, selfishness and lack of understanding. In this episode we see their petty ambition coming to the fore. They wanted preferential treatment from Jesus when He came into His kingdom. Not only are they acting selfishly but they have failed utterly to grasp what he has been preaching, that the call to greatness is the call to service. There cannot be glory without the Cross. It is heartening to remind ourselves that it was with people such as these that Jesus set out to change the world and He did. God brings glory to Himself by doing great things with small tools. He uses us not in spite of our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses. His favourite instruments are ‘nobodies’. We should take heart!
‘He went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth’
The rich young man who meets Jesus appears to have it all. He is essentially decent, upright, enterprising and moral, but he does have one great flaw. He is in the grip of wealth. Back in the first century the Roman philosopher Seneca suggested that ‘wealth is the slave of a wise man, the master of a fool’. The young man represents the many in our world who are incapable of letting-go, taking the extra step. They may avoid doing wrong, but Christianity is more about doing than avoiding. It calls us to ‘cast out into the deep’. Respectability is not enough. When Jesus asked the young man to abandon his attachment to material possessions He was trying to get him to understand that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. No one has ever grown poor by giving. St. Francis was surely reflecting on this passage of Scripture when he said: ‘remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received-only what you have given’
‘What God has united man must not divide’
‘Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God’ (Pope Francis). It was conceived and born in the Creator’s mind. It is His gift. It is central to His plan for the human family. That is why we go to a sacred place to solemnise the beginning of the marriage journey. Through word and symbol we affirm the permanent, exclusive nature of Christian marriage, which is the ultimate school of love. In His teaching, Jesus presents the handbook for a perfect marriage and those who live their marriage by His handbook will reap the blessings that obedience brings. ‘Happy ever after’ is not a fairytale but a choice! Jesus builds a rampart around the husband-wife relationship. Society would be wise to continue the protection that He proposes because healthy marriages are the bedrock of any solid society. On this bedrock the future of humanity depends. ‘The life of the Church is enriched through every marriage and is impoverished whenever marriage is disfigured in any way’. (Pope Francis)
Children set their watches by their parents’ clocks. This is true across the entire canvass of life. It is especially true with regard to the faith. The ‘little ones’ notice. There is no such thing as neutrality where faith is concerned. We pass-on either a positive or a negative attitude. We must heed the call of Jesus to be stepping stones, and never stumbling blocks to the children on their faith journey. We all ‘caught’ the faith in those early precious days. To be neutral is to place an obstacle on the road, and Jesus warns that judgement will be harsh for those who fail the young. It follows that those who would pass-on the faith must know the territory, and, here the old Latin adage comes to mind: ‘nemo dat quod non habet’ (no one can give what he/ she does not possess). In other words parents must first be in the habit of talking to God about their children before they can talk to their children about God! Every child is God’s vote of confidence in the parents.
‘To pass on to your children the gift of faith you received from your parents is your first duty and your greatest privilege as parents. The home is the first school of religion as it must be the first school of prayer’. (Pope St. John Paul, Limerick 1979)
‘They had been arguing which of them was the greatest’
Today we are surprised to find the friends of Jesus arguing as to which of them is the greatest. Ambition can be healthy or unhealthy. Jesus did encourage His disciples on another occasion to be ‘ambitious for the higher gifts’. This kind of ambition manifests itself in joyful, humble service, the placing of ones’ gifts and talents at the disposal of those who are most powerless. It may even mean being content to take second place in order to promote the greater good. There is unfortunately, an ambition that is unhealthy. It manifests itself in a blind, ruthless, uncaring pursuit of power, status and influence, which leads, ultimately, to emptiness and sterility. We have a choice then. Do we have an ambition to rule or an ambition to serve? Most political and economic problems, most bitter divisions and disputes would be solved if people chose the path of service over the path of power. What our world needs urgently is what Jesus proposed - the heart of the servant. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy highlighted this fundamental choice when he challenged his fellow Americans in his memorable Inauguration Address in January 1961: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country’. That is healthy ambition!
‘Who do you say I am’?
Caesarea Phillippi is situated twenty-five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. At the time of Jesus it was a significant centre of pagan worship and it was here that He chose to pose a searching question to His disciples and by extension, to His followers of every generation: ‘Who do you say I am’? In other words, do you really know me, and does it show in your life? Many know about Jesus, but few actually know him. It is one of the great tragedies of our time that many have walked away from their faith without ever having encountered the Person at the centre of it all. And all the while, He stands, waiting to be found. English painter William Holman Hunt captured this truth beautifully in his evocative work ‘The Light of the World’ where Jesus is depicted with lantern in hand knocking on a closed door. The message is clear. He can only enter our house if we allow Him in. It begins in little ways. Dutch artist Vincent Van Gough, a contemporary of Hunt, once said that ‘the best way to know God is to love many things’. It is certainly true that, if we begin to see Him in little things, we will come to see Him in all things. He will make His home with us, and we will live in such a way that those who know us, but don’t know Him, will come to know Him because they know us
‘He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’
Today Jesus encounters and heals a deaf man who also has an impediment in his speech. The Lord’s gesture reminds us that the gifts of hearing and speech are among God’s greatest gifts, and are closely connected. Many talk, but few actually listen. Research has found that we only listen at twenty five per cent of our capacity. If we do listen, it is most often with the intent to reply, not to understand. One of the most sincere forms of respect is to listen to what another has to say. The esteemed German theologian, Paul Tilich went so far as to say that ‘the first duty of love is to listen’. It is interesting to note that the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are composed of the same letters! We would do well, then, to heed the wisdom of the Turkish proverb: ‘listen a thousand times and speak once’. In that way, we will be more likely to use the precious gift of speech to lift-up, not to tear down; to heal, not to wound; to help not to hurt. At a recent audience in Rome, Pope Francis concluded his remarks on the theme of listening with a beautiful prayer: ‘May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent’.
"This people honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me"
It’s the heart that matters! Jesus returned to this theme often in His preaching. It was a revolutionary message at that time. Central to the religion of the day was the strict observance of rules, regulations and rituals, and the avoidance of foods that were 'unclean'. The Law had become an end in itself. Jesus respected the Law but He despised legalism. He warned against identifying religion with performing external acts. He presented a very different vision, a liberating path, a religion centred on the heart. He directed His listeners to look inwards, reminding them that the heart is the fountain from which all things spring, good or evil. True religion is indeed heart work and the art of authentic Christian living consists in the rhyming of wholesome hearts with worthwhile deeds. If we get the heart right, beautiful deeds will flow. We will reach out to our brothers, sisters and all living things with kindness, tolerance, compassion and respect. May He, who alone can see the 'inside' make our hearts all that they were meant to be.
'I believe that the only true religion is having a good heart'. (Dalai Lama)
‘‘What about you, do you want to go away too?”
The Christian journey hinges on two words: invitation and response. God invites and we have a choice. From the beginning many have chosen to walk away from Jesus and tread other paths. It’s not a uniquely modern phenomenon. The problem today is that many people walk away without making a reflective choice. Having received the faith second-hand, they never go deeper. There is no mature decision involved. Faith sees with the ears and the unexamined faith will wither. There is a crisis of knowledge in the Church family. It could be said that we are drowning in information but starved for knowledge. A recent survey in the United States produced the startling finding that atheists and agnostics have a significantly superior religious knowledge to Catholics. ‘Knowledge is the peg on which we hang the hat of faith, ‘the wing wherewith we fly to heaven’. We cannot have faith in something about which we know nothing! Isn’t it time for the baptized faithful to take a second look and not just walk away?
‘Of all women you are the most blessed’
Mary is explicitly mentioned in only five of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. We don’t know the dates of her birth or her death and yet her light shines like a beacon down the ages. She is ‘everywoman’. She is the woman for all times and seasons. She is the most famous woman in history who has inspired more art and music than any other woman. In our own time, she has appeared on the cover of Time magazine more often than any other woman. Without Mary, there is no Gospel. She is the one who is present where she is needed the most. She is there for her Son in all the pivotal moments of his journey from the hill country of Judea to the Hill of Calvary. She is constantly leading others to Him. ‘Her greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself’ (Pope Benedict).When Jesus challenged His followers to live, give and forgive like Him, she showed by her humble service that it was possible. Jesus cannot be understood without His mother. ‘The reason why Christ is unknown today is because His mother is unknown’ (Newman). From the sixth century the belief grew, that because Mary’s life and work were so closely united to that of her Son, she was not separated from Him in death. Orthodox Christians hold that she died first and was then taken directly to be with her Son while some in the Catholic tradition believe that she was not allowed to experience death, at all. The Assumption was finally defined as a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII on November 1st 1950 when, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he pronounced that: ‘The Virgin Mary having completed the course of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory’. As the shadows lengthen and the shades of autumn appear, we salute Mary ‘the highest honour of our race’ and allow her to come close. ‘Mary is a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God’ (Lumen Gentium). We see in her what we can all become with God’s grace. She is ‘an echo of the heart of God’ (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity). She is ‘our tainted natures’ solitary boast’ (William Wordsworth). She has opened the world’s door to God. She has opened earth to heaven. ‘One ship has rounded the headland. We are the little ships following her home’ (Joseph Cassidy)
‘Anyone who eats this bread will live forever’
In today’s extract from the ‘Bread Section’ of St. John’s Gospel Jesus makes an extraordinary promise. If we eat His flesh and drink His blood we will live with Him forever. There has never been a greater promise made in the whole of history. By sharing in the Eucharist we share in the life of God. As we consume the Eucharist, the Eucharist is meant to consume us. Our vision becomes Christ’s vision. Our hopes and dreams are shaped by His hopes and dreams. Our hearts become His heart reaching out to all of humanity. ‘The effect of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is that we become what we receive’ (Pope St. Leo the Great). We are dealing with mystery when we contemplate the priceless gift of the Eucharist. A young boy once asked an electrician: ‘What exactly is electricity’? The electrician answered: ‘I really do not know, son, but I can make it give you light’. Likewise, the Church can never fully explain the stupendous mystery of the Eucharist, but she can make it give us the life of Jesus. The Irish people have, through the ages, embraced the mystery and treasured the gift. When the last Chief Secretary of Ireland, Augustine Birrell, was asked by London to report on the level of faith and practice in Ireland he gave a one sentence reply: ‘It’s the Mass that matters’. May it always be so.
‘Work for food that endures to eternal life’
Jack Dempsey was one of the most famous and popular boxers in history. On July 4th 1919 he reached the pinnacle of his career when he defeated Jess Willard to become heavyweight champion of the world. The next morning when he awoke in his hotel room he had a strange sense of emptiness inside. When asked to explain this surprising feeling, he replied: ‘success didn’t taste the way I thought it would. I had won the world championship, so what’? Down through the ages people have discovered as Dempsey did, that worldly success, fame, adulation do not satisfy the deepest hungers of the human heart. Seeking satisfaction in the things of the world is like chasing the wind. Something more is needed, and in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel Jesus points the way. He is the Bread of Life and our hearts will always be restless until they rest in Him. Every longing that we try to satisfy apart from Him will fall short. Come to think of it the main difference between the greatest saint and the greatest sinner is where they go to satisfy the hungers of their hearts. The seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal expressed it better than most when he wrote: ‘There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God the Creator made known by Jesus Christ’.
‘Jesus gave out as much as was wanted’
Chapter six of St. John’s Gospel is known as the ‘Bread Section’. It begins today with the ‘sign’ of the ‘feeding of the multitude’. This is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels because it prefigures the great event of the Last Supper when the disciples were fed with the ‘Bread of Life’. The episode speaks of the boundless generosity of God and the fact that He alone can satisfy the hungers of the human heart. The little boy offered the little that he had-five barley loaves and two fish- and Jesus did the rest. Nothing is insignificant in His hands. Nothing is lost of what is given to Him. It was this Gospel story that Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed at a Mass with young people in Scotland in 1982. In his homily that day, the Holy Father spoke these encouraging words: ‘The little boy gave all he had and Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people. It is exactly the same with your lives. Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept and bless you, and He will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation’. Today Jesus asks for the loaves and fishes of our time and talents. If we withhold our time and talents we just might miss a miracle!
'You must come away to some lonely place’
Jesus invites His friends to come aside to a lonely place to rest a while. He understood the importance of having rhythm and balance in life. He was teaching them that no fruitful work is possible without the practice of solitude. If they are to journey out to others they must first make the journey inwards to regain their perspective and recharge their spirit. Solitude is the ordeal that gives us the right to speak. Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations extolled the necessity of solitude in these memorable words: ‘Speak only out of silence; act only out of stillness’. It is out of silence and solitude that worship springs. The cultivation of a healthy silence is of the essence if the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is to have meaning. The ‘little encounters’ during the week prepare the ground for the ‘great encounter’ on the ‘Day of the Sun’. These ‘little encounters’ or ‘minute vacations’ can happen over a cup of coffee in the early morning or in a quiet corner of the house when the family has gone to bed. The important thing is to find that sanctuary place each day where God can speak to the heart. God is the friend of silence.
‘You can hear the footsteps of God when silence reigns in the mind'.
‘He began to send them out’
From the outset the Church was missionary. The disciples were sent-out by Jesus to others. Christianity is not a private religion. The prayers of the Mass and the dismissal at the end of the celebration are reminders to us of the outward thrust that must be at the heart of who we are. We strengthen our own faith by sharing it with others. We share it best through our witness. Notice how Jesus concentrates on the lifestyle of the disciples rather than on the message. Witness always speaks louder than words. From the beginning the word of God has encountered apathy and downright opposition. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes to God are pleasure, wealth, power and honour. These substitutes for God have become increasingly evident in our land and when God is lost people are ‘capable of anything’. The great Irishman, Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary spoke prophetic words back in the 1920’s when he warned that inertia with regard to our faith leads, within two generations, to non-practice and within a further two generations to non- belief. The era of non-belief is with us. Our mission is close to home.
‘A prophet is despised only in his own country’
Jesus is rejected in his own town. A carpenter is a carpenter surely! We know all about his family! How could one of our own possibly have such wisdom? It’s a familiar story. We tend to look to far away hills for inspiration while the treasure is under our feet. God is present in the everyday. His face shines through ordinary people. His voice is heard in unlikely places. ‘There is a divine message in everything’. We would do well to take a second look at those closest to us. There is more to them than meets the eye. How did Jesus react to being rejected by His own people? He didn’t castigate His listeners. He didn’t rant or rail. He didn’t force His message on anyone. He simply withdrew quietly and took His message to another region. The preacher depends on the disposition of the congregation. There can be no preaching to hearts that are closed. If people decide that they won’t understand, they won’t understand. We can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to Him or we can shut it in His face. It is interesting to note the sequel to this unpleasant episode. After His rejection Jesus never returned to Nazareth again!
‘They were overcome with astonishment’
The English word miracle derives from an Indo-European word ‘smeiros’ meaning ‘to smile’. The Gospels record thirty-seven miracles performed by Jesus. Each miracle story reminds us that His presence always makes a difference. When He is invited into a situation, no matter how desperate, things change for the better. In today’s Gospel extract, we hear of the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus and the healing of the woman who suffered from a long-term haemorrhage. In each case the encounter is personal. In each case a request for healing is made. Jairus, a synagogue official, a man of substance in the community makes the request publicly on behalf of his daughter. The unnamed woman, a person of humble standing, makes her own request privately. Both Jairus and the woman have expectant faith in the Lord and their faith is rewarded. Jesus does not disappoint those who seek His assistance. Neither does He discriminate between the famous and the not so famous. With touch, He healed their bodies. With words, He healed their spirits. With love, He healed their hearts. It is interesting to note that the healing of the woman occurred as Jesus made His way to the home of Jairus. The Master was not annoyed at being sidetracked, because He understood that sometimes what happens on the journey can be as important as what happens when we reach our destination! Many people smiled that day!
‘The wind and the sea obey Him’.
The Gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 AD for the Church in Rome, which had experienced the persecution of Nero, during which great leaders like Peter and Paul were lost. Fear and uncertainty were in the air. There was a feeling abroad that the Lord had abandoned His people. Reassurance was needed. The parable of the calming of the storm would have provided that reassurance to the faithful in those turbulent times. As it was in the beginning, so it is today. Our Church has had to navigate exceedingly stormy waters in recent decades. Even Pope Benedict admitted, on the occasion of his resignation, that there were moments during his papacy ‘when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping’. Whether as Church or as individuals we must never forget who is on board our ship. Sometimes He calms the storm; at other times, He calms the sailor. He never abandons His people.
‘The kindom of God is like a mustard seed’On December 1st 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parkes, a forty-two year old African American working woman refused to vacate her seat on a city bus when ordered to do so by the driver so that a white man could be accommodated. Rosa was arrested. Meetings were called. Martin Luther King emerged. The Civil Rights movement took root. Public transport was boycotted. The Supreme Court of the United States declared Alabama’s segregation laws to be unconstitutional and so ‘a forest fire began with a spark’. No word or deed is insignificant in the hands of God. Mustard seeds grow into trees. Small seeds are growing quietly in our Church. Let us take notice and take heart. We must never be daunted by small beginnings. Great acts take time. We could well adopt the words of encouragement offered by St. Francis Xavier to his followers: ‘Be big in little things’.
‘Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Living Heart of each of our parishes’ (Pope St Paul V1).
This feast is charged with happy memories of throngs of the faithful moving in devotional processions through streets festooned with papal flags, tricolours and all manner of bunting. At every door stood little altars, laden with statues, holy pictures and candles. The men and women walked proudly and reverently in their ‘Sunday best’, as they prayed the fifteen decades of the rosary and raised their voices with gusto to sing the ancient hymns, while the children from the First Holy Communion class scattered flower petals on the roadway, and all to salute the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. On this day we remember with gratitude all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith who preserved this treasure for us through days of persecution and days of prosperity. It could be said that we got cheap what they bought dear. They have left us a monument more lasting than bronze. As we accept anew the responsibility of holding the gift in trust for the next generation we recall the words spoken by Pope Benedict to parents some years ago: ‘Please go with your children to Church. This is not time lost. The day becomes more beautiful, the whole week becomes more beautiful when you go to Sunday Mass together’. ‘The moment we separate our lives from the Eucharist, something breaks’ (St. Teresa of Calcutta).
‘Glóir don Athair agus don Mhac agus don Spiorad Naomh’
Here we are at the heart of the mystery of our God. The human tongue can never speak the final word about God; the human mind can never fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. ‘The man who tries to understand it fully will lose his mind, but the one who would deny the Trinity will lose her soul’. Many people have used images through the ages to help us to ponder the mystery. St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of three distinct notes being played together to form one harmonious chord. Theologian Frank Sheed used the image of water, which can manifest itself as rain, ice or steam. St. Patrick pointed to the shamrock with its’ three shoots emerging from a single stem. We will never fully understand the arithmetic of heaven, but suffice it to say the following: the Father is the Creator and source of all being; the Son is the face of the Creator; the Spirit is the breath of the Creator. The Father works for us; the Son works among us; the Spirit works within us. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we cut through the doctrine and make real our relationship with the Three Persons. Through that profound gesture, we place ourselves in their gaze. We touch the forehead as we ask the Father to make our thoughts noble; we touch the breast as we ask the Son to make our hearts pure; we touch both shoulders as we ask the Holy Spirit to make the work of our hands fruitful and worthwhile. Is leor é sin.
‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
In the year 1873 Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, a Jew living in Russian Poland endeavoured to create a new international language, ‘Esperanto’, a word meaning ‘one who hopes’, to help break down barriers and increase understanding between ethnic groups. While his vision didn’t take root as he hoped, it is estimated that about two million people worldwide do speak the language today. On this Pentecost Day, as we celebrate the ‘Birthday of our Church’ we recall how the Holy Spirit brought and continues to offer a universal language to the human family, an internal language that reveals itself in what we call the fruits of the Spirit. Whenever we promote love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness or self-control, we speak the language of the Spirit, further the mission of the Church and contribute to the renewal of the face of the earth. ‘Let us too ask for the grace of being able to hear what the Spirit says to our Church, to our community, to our parish, to our family and for the grace to learn the language of the Holy Spirit’. (Pope Francis).
Bethlehem is God with us • Calvary is God for us • Pentecost is God in us.
‘He was taken up into heaven’
As Jesus ascended into heaven, He blessed His friends and they let Him go. Life is like that. As we move from one stage of the journey to the next we must bless what has been and let it go in order to embrace fruitfully what has yet to be. We must not allow ourselves to become prisoners of the past with all its’ hurts and wounds. The past can blind and bind us. Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing there is a future. It was towards that future that Jesus directed His friends as He took their leave. While giving them a glimpse of the world beyond, He directed them to continue His work in this world. This message is presented powerfully in a striking picture of the Ascension in the College Chapel of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Here, as Jesus ascends, we notice that Mary is not looking towards Him, but rather outwards towards us. In other words, we are to find Him now in the lives of the people around us and help them to encounter Him. That is our mission and the reward for our efforts will be, literally, out of this world. The Feast of the Ascension, then, teaches us much about going forward, going out, going home and letting go.
‘Love one another as I have loved you’
Love is a much-used word in our world today. It has become an umbrella term to encompass enjoyment, fascination and infatuation. It is employed at times to suggest a way of living that is without responsibility, without boundaries, without principles. Jesus guides us in a different direction. The One who was known as the ‘man for others’ lived a life that was marked by humble service, selflessness and sacrifice. From country roads to city streets, from lake shore to mountain top He revealed a love that was new. It was a love that manifested itself in hands that healed, feet that walked the extra mile, eyes that looked with compassion, ears that listened with empathy, and words that lifted up and encouraged. It was a love that promoted the greatest good of all whom He encountered, and nobody was beyond the reach of that love. It was a love that led Him to the Cross. We are called to mirror that love today. It’s a tall order and it will lead us to difficult places too. It will cause grey hairs and heartbreak, stressful days and sleepless nights, but, in the end, joy. The love that Jesus proposes is as simple and as difficult as that
‘I am the vine you are the branches’
The image of the vine and the branches is one of the fundamental images of the New Testament. Jesus uses this image as He addresses His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He died. It reminds us of a truth which we have all re-discovered in a striking way during the past year: everything is interconnected. My interest is linked to everyone else’s. We are all leaves on different branches of the same vine. For the family of believers the vine is Christ. At the centre of Christianity, there is a person. Stay close to Him and all things are possible. Lose Him and die. The image teaches us also that the vine needs the branches. The mission of Christ is our mission now. We are to be His hands, feet, ears, eyes and tongue. This is a profound and privileged task which should cause us to ask ourselves a simple question every day. Does the example of our lives turn the thoughts of others to God?
Eucharist and priesthood were born in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Holy Thursday night. The two gifts are inextricably linked. Without priests we are deprived of the nourishment of the Eucharist. This fact should give us pause for thought on Vocations Sunday. Vocation to priesthood is a gift from God, but grows and is nurtured within family and community. Without support, encouragement and even invitation, the call will wither and die. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, according to the African proverb. We might well say that it takes a community to make a priest. The eternally challenging words of Pope St. Paul VI come to mind here: ‘Every generation gets the vocations it deserves’. This day, of course, has a wider reach. It is a day for all the baptised. The mission of the Church is the mission of all. When someone utters the words, ‘I am on a mission’, you know that he/she is embarked on a task that is important and urgent. The mission of all in the Church family is nothing less than making the Lord’s word heard and His face visible. There is no more privileged, more important or more urgent work than that. Since lay people form the majority of the Church family, their role in this work is critical. They accomplish this work most effectively through the general witness of their daily lives. Holiness in the family and in the workplace takes on a very ordinary appearance. Laity, not clergy, are the most important people in the Church. They hold the key to the future. The ministry of priests and religious will be centred on supporting the mission of the laity.
‘He showed them His hands and feet’
In World War II a doctor leaned over an horrific wound on the side of a young soldier. As the soldier came to, the doctor whispered gently to him: ‘I’m sorry son, you will live, but I have to tell you that you have lost your arm’. The soldier smiled and said, ‘I didn’t lose it, I gave it’. Some wounds can be scars of shame, but others are badges of honour, evidence of love and sacrifice and care. ‘Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us’ (David Richo). In today’s Gospel extract, the disciples recognised Jesus in His wounds. When He showed them His hands and feet, they remembered the love that was given and they believed. It called forth a similar love in them. It led them to the shedding of their blood too. On Holy Saturday night we inserted five grains of incense into the Paschal Candle to represent the five wounds He carried in His body on the Cross. They remind us of how much we are loved. May we always be aware of His wounds and the wounds of those closest to us who have made us who we are. By His wounds we are healed. By their wounds we were made. We connect at the point of our wounds.
A quieter day, but Easter glory still fills the air. Behind closed doors, the disciples are dazed and dispirited. Then Jesus appears, but Thomas is not there. An annual reminder here of the power and importance of praying with the community. Eight days later Thomas is present with the community. He encounters the Lord, his questions are answered and his life is changed forever. The doubting disciple is moved to utter, in five short words, the most profound profession of faith in the entire Gospel: ‘My Lord and my God’. He will now become one of the foundation stones of the fledgling Church. The message is clear. We absent ourselves from the community gathering at a cost. At this time, our gathering is from a distance from necessity, but even from a distance we are nourished and strengthened. Thomas recognises Jesus in His hands. The story of our lives is etched in our hands. The fruits of caring, giving and loving are there for the world to see. Jesus’ love for us led Him to the Cross and when Thomas saw the hands, he remembered, he understood and he believed.
"He is risen, Alleluia."
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, life is absurd, the grave is without hope and our faith is meaningless. The resurrection then, was the most significant event in human history. It elevates Christianity above all other world religions. It’s no wonder that it is mentioned more than one hundred times in the New Testament. We live in the shadow of Easter and we rejoice on this day, the greatest of all Sundays in the Christian calendar. The tomb is empty. Life has a destination. Hope dawns anew. Our God reigns. His victory is our victory. Good has triumphed over evil; light over darkness; peace over chaos. The fact that He rose at the darkest hour, just before the dawn is a striking reminder that, when all seems lost, resurrection is near. When we reach ‘rock bottom’ we discover that Christ is the rock at the bottom. The experience of the women who went to the tomb on that Easter morning speaks to us too. They were worried about the stone. Who would move it? Their worries were unfounded. In life, we fret endlessly, never more so than over the past twelve months, but God knows His plan and all shall be well. Because of the resurrection, there is a future for every human being. May we radiate the hope and joy of the Easter message in all we think, say and do.
‘Blessings on him who comes on the name of the Lord’
Today we turn our faces to Jerusalem once again and are transported back to the event that marked the beginning of the week we call ‘holy’. It’s a curious scene as the King of Peace comes to His city riding on a donkey. Contrary to popular opinion, the donkey was regarded as a noble animal in Palestine. When a king went to war, he rode on a horse. When he came offering peace, he rode on a donkey. Holy Week is a week of contrasts, a week of exaltation and humiliation, acclamation and condemnation, darkness and light, betrayal and loyalty, despair and hope, sadness and joy, fickleness and faithfulness, human suffering and divine triumph. During the days ahead, through word, music and especially through symbol, we remember and enter into the greatest story ever told. Our lives are determined more by what is done to us than by what we do and in His passion and death, Jesus shows us how to respond to what is done to us. In His final hours on earth He absorbs and transforms hatred and returns it as love. Holy Week is an academy of love.
HOLY THURSDAY: Eucharist and Priesthood were born on this night in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The two gifts are inextricably linked. No priests; no Eucharist. In washing the feet of His friends, Jesus showed us that celebration of the Eucharist should lead to humble service.
GOOD FRIDAY: The wood of the Cross is the throne of grace, a sign of His love, an invitation to love, a revelation about love. On this day, we tell the story of the last hours of Jesus; we pay our respects to His body; we are nourished with food for the journey. While the world changes, the Cross stands firm. It’s no wonder we call this Friday ‘Good’.
HOLY SATURDAY: The Scriptures don’t explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Scriptures. On this most holy night, we light the Paschal candle; we proclaim the Easter story; we bless the Easter water; we receive the Bread of Life. We allow the symbols to speak. He is risen Alleluia!
‘Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain’.
By using the image of the wheat grain falling to the ground and dying Jesus teaches that life comes through death, greatness through service. The image captures in a striking way the story of His own mission and ministry. By dying, He destroyed our death. From the time of Jesus, the history of the Church has been adorned with examples of valiant souls who, through their blood, provided the seed of renewal and rebirth. ‘The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church’. Not only the Church but the world in general owes everything to people who give selflessly. We can recall the heroic sacrifices of our parents, who never counted the cost. The simple grain of wheat contains the wisdom of the ages. It is not what we take up but what we give up that makes us rich. Self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness are the master keys to true happiness. It is indeed in giving that we receive. It is in sharing that we retain. It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. If we choose to become wrapped up in ourselves, we become very small parcels. The great Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso expressed it better than most when he wrote that ‘the meaning of life is to find your gift, but the purpose of life is to give it away’.
In the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel we are given an insight into a day in the life of Jesus as He moves from prayer to active ministry. We find Him teaching in the synagogue, visiting the home of Peter, healing those who were sick and finally, praying in the wilderness. On entering the synagogue He is confronted by a man possessed by an unclean spirit. It is His first encounter with the Kingdom of Darkness and marks the beginning of a ferocious battle that will continue from Capernaum to Calvary. Good and evil are very hard to explain or understand. What we do know is that each of us is a mixture of both. ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person’ (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). The struggle is essentially an internal one. Consequently, we should make it our constant care to nourish our hearts with all that is good, beautiful, noble and worthwhile so that the light may triumph over the darkness. The greatest threat to our efforts occurs when the lines become blurred, when the unacceptable is seen as acceptable, the indefensible as defensible, the inappropriate as appropriate. This blurring of lines is sadly, a hallmark of our increasingly secular world. To see evil and call it good, mocks God. To see the good and choose the good, gives Him glory. (31st January 2021)
‘What are you looking for’?